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Gregory’s Web – January 29, 2023

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Ron Gregory Political Columnist - WV Statewide News

Gregory’s Web for January 29, 2023

by Ron Gregory

It’s likely possible, given the various hometowns of West Virginia governors, that there have been others who disliked Charleston as much as Jim Justice. In recent times, at least, that displeasure has not been as obvious to statehouse observers coming from other governors. It’s pretty obvious that Justice would be happier someplace else most of the time.

It apparently didn’t bother the Tomblins, the Kumps, the Underwoods, the Wises and all the rest to reside in the Mansion on Kanawha Boulevard (or its predecessors before the current building was constructed in 1925. In fact, until then, governors were responsible for their own residences).

Governor and First Lady Justice are an entirely different story. ⁰000Campaigning for the job in 2016, it was well known that Justice did not intend to live in Charleston.

At that time, some thought Justice’s health prohibited stair climbing as was required by the mansion layout then. After he was elected, though, elevator work was said to remedy that problem although it was probably never as bad as some led us to believe.

But the Governor does little to hide the fact that he simply refuses to live in Charleston. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to spend much time in the capital city. His smile is biggest on the way out of town.

After a former Democrat  legislator (Delegate Isaac Sponaugle of Pendleton County) sued Justice trying to force him to live in the Governor’s Mansion during his second term, Justice  reluctantly said he’d stay there. 

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The constitution (yeah, that old thing) requires it. Actually it says he’ll reside at the seat of government,which is Charleston not Lewisburg. But he goes with Lewisburg as his place of abode. So much for a Republican Governor being a strict constitutionalist, Justice knows the supermajority Republican legislature will DO NOTHING to make him obey the law.

Lewisburg is a quaint, nice, little southern town. It’s the seat of government for Greenbrier County but not the state of West Virginia.

To get Sponaugle’s court action dismissed, Justice agreed he’d live in the Charleston Mansion during his second term. He apparently had his fingers crossed behind his back when he told presiding Senior Judge Dan O’Hanlon of Huntington that whopper. The judge had no alternative but to believe the sitting governor under oath.

Like promising to pay his bills, residency in Charleston is not a requirement – or promise – Big Jim has chosen to keep.

He has made traveling the state handing out our money an art form, however. Nowadays he’s holding “town halls” to discuss his proposal to cut the personal income tax 50%. But at the end of the day, he nearly always sleeps in his Lewisburg home – not the official residence.

Before hosting the town halls on the income tax proposal, he was opposing constitutional amendments while touring the state with Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy and Baby Dog. Which begs the question: why campaign against amendments if you don’t expect to obey them even if they pass?

Thumbing his nose at the constitution may not serve Justice well if he challenges Democrat U.S. Senator Joe Manchin in 2024. Voters may be more difficult to bully than legislators.

Is there a reason beside stubbornness that keeps Justice in Greenbrier after dark? Thus far no rumors of him being a werewolf attached to ancient remains in Greenbrier have surfaced.

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Maybe he really is just stubborn? Surely not Justice, who really hasn’t adapted to the legislative process after years of running the show as a billionaire.

That reminds me that during his executive order filled pandemic days, I likened Justice to a CEO working with the legislature being equivalent to the “board of directors.”

“Board of directors, my eye,” a legislator quipped then. “He’s not got any of us rated above a bank teller.”

One wonders if this isn’t a fatally flawed governorship when you have a man who won’t pay his bills and ignores laws and rules.

Not very good behavior for a leader that’s for sure.

* * * * * *

When I’ve written about the 2024 election, I’ve pretty generally made it clear that the Democrats’ cupboard is bare of existing statewide candidates.

Being in a significant minority robs Democrats of having.a bunch of rising stars. That’s only natural.

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House Minority Leader Doug Skaff of Kanawha is likely the highest profile legitimate statewide candidate among the legislators.

Skaff’s meteoric rise ended when he lost a senate seat to Republican Dr. Tom Takubo. But he’s come back to win his House seat in the face of overwhelming.GOP trends..

His position as head of H-D Media also gives him widespread exposure.

Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, who ran for Governor in 2020, is a potential Democrat statewide candidate as is Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.

But in reading the press release for Justice’s latest statewide tour, it occurred to me that he has generally had Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy and Baby Dog with him on his visits.

Never one to miss a public relations angle, I wondered if Justice might be using his bully pulpit to elect Hardy to some statewide office. Two openings in 2024 would seem natural for a Finance Secretary: State Treasurer and State Auditor.

Hardy, a former Charleston city council and Kanawha County Commissioner has been a well known Democrat.

I thought I had found a “sleeper” Democrat candidate. Hardy was very active in county Democrat politics. Then I checked Hardy’s party affiliation. I learned he had switched to and is now not affiliated with any party.

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Nobody, even someone as popular as Hardy, will be elected as essentially an independent. 

I’m sure Justice is happier with Hardy not being a Democrat.

* * * * * *

Justice is simply conducting a never-ending.statewide campaign at taxpayers’ expense. And he does other things that make him popular with some but not all.

For example, I’m sure it would not bring a favorable voter response to small town mayors if they took extra days off at every whim.

Justice’s two recent “state of emergency” winter weather days in December 2022 were more gifts of time off for the holidays than the non-existent winter storms.

Not only was there no “state of emergency-type” snowfall in most of the state, there was no snow at all.

I mentioned at the time how much voter response to Justice’s “emergency days” differed from the 1970s response to “Rockefeller’s blizzard.”

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There was fun poked at the tall, lanky Northeastern former secretary of state and then-governor (“carpetbagger” they called him) who thought West Virginia had Buffalo-style snowstorms. Rockefeller was the butt of many jokes.

Folks took pictures of the two or three flakes of snow that fell and showed them at church on Sunday.

Legislators and others roundly criticized Jay for “wasting” a day’s wages to have people huddle indoors for no reason. Critics rightly pointed out that the daily cost of government continued with virtually no services.

In 2023, not even conservative  legislators act as though the days off cost real money. In fact, in response to my question, State Auditor JB McCuskey said it costs $7.5 million to operate state government for a day.

Interestingly that was a question nobody had ever asked McCuskey before.

That’s two days, to the taxpayer tune of $15 million, because Big Jim and the Weather Service got the forecast wrong and gave state workers two needless days off.

It all sounds nice and pleasant. Kindly old Governor Jim cares for his constituents. So he keeps them off snow-covered roads. Except there were no snow covered roads.

Can you imagine, hypothetically, the CEO of, say … The Greenbrier Resort giving his entire staff the day off with pay because it MIGHT snow?

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Yet another example of poor executive management.

Someone should ask the Greenbrier CEO that question.

* * * * * *

I had the opportunity to chat with Political Consultant Extraordinaire Larry Puccio last week.

I had asked Puccio to clarify for us his prospective role in the 2024 governor’s race in light of Republican Moore Capito’s candidacy.

We discussed how Puccio has  been a lifelong Democrat who is perhaps Manchin’s best friend but also a confidante of Justice. Puccio was a long time state Democrat chair.

The Manchin-Moore teamwork is even more well known. Those are two families intricately connected. 

Rumor had it that Puccio will “run” the Capito for Governor campaign but Puccio objected to that term. ‘I may have ‘run’ my last campaign,” Puccio chuckled.

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“I’ll be part of Moore’s campaign and I want to see him governor,” he added.

If Puccio touches politics, it turns to gold. His very presence makes Capito a leading.contender.

* * * * * *

A total of 1,122 House bills have been introduced as of January 27, and 19 of those have passed the House. The 60-day, regular legislative session ends at midnight March 11. 

At this rate, the patriotic legislature supermajority may not do anything to curtail the governor’s powers.

Oh I forgot, they aren’t about to confront their governor anyway.

Along those lines, there is not a lot of happiness bubbling over from ultra conservatives. Many of them naively expected a hard right agenda to be pushed by their supermajority. So far that hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to.

Major philosophical legislation will be less likely.next year with an election looming.

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* * * * * *

Ronna McDaniel won a fourth term to head the Republican National Committee (RNC) during a secret ballot vote by members on Friday, capping off a contentious election spurred by calls within the party for new leadership.

McDaniel fended off two challengers — California attorney Harmeet Dhillon and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. She won 111 of the votes, while Dhillon won 51 and Lindell won 4. 

That was good news for former President Trump. Of course I don’t understand national politics.

* * * * * *

The ability of social media to effect change is truly amazing.

In a span of a few hours, ladies took to social media to accuse the owner of the Hot Cup coffee shop in Logan with bizarre, lewd behavior.

It took less than a week for the accusations to surface, be debated and allegedly verified by others before state police were searching the Stratton Street business with a warrant. 

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Some of those making accusations posted what they  claimed were sexually-charged emails between the owner, Michael Cline and themselves.

Some of the women admitted the conversations were consensual but said they were underage at the time.

By last weekend, Hot Cup had already posted that it was “permanently closed.”

The spot made national news when former Logan State Senator Richard Ojeda met with film producer Michael Moore there in February 2018.

The shop was known as a “liberal’s think tank” said one Loganite familiar with the shop and owner Michael Cline.

It was about the time Ojeda was blaming Trump for losing a congressional seat to Carol Miller.

He was quoted back then: “Because of you (Trump), the people of southern West Virginia will have another voiceless representative that supports legislation that hurts our working-class citizens!”

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185; ronjoegregory@gmail.com; or PO Box 20297, Charleston, WV 25362. Confidentiality guaranteed.

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  • Ron Gregory

    From Mayor of Glenville at age 26 to Assistant Mayor of Charleston, management of various public entities, and countless political races in West Virginia – Ron Gregory is the most noted political correspondent in the state.

From Mayor of Glenville at age 26 to Assistant Mayor of Charleston, management of various public entities, and countless political races in West Virginia - Ron Gregory is the most noted political correspondent in the state.